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Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies (w/ Lemon Preserves) (Vegan, Paleo, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened)

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Lemon and ricotta?? Like... together? In a dessert ? YES! Lemon and ricotta desserts are a thing and for good reason. The citrus-y flavor from the lemons and the tang and richness of the ricotta pair perfectly in virtually any dessert. You may have heard of things like lemon ricotta cake, lemon ricotta scones, and lemon ricotta pancakes. Another common lemon & ricotta dessert is lemon ricotta cookies. But fellow vegans and dairy-free folks, fear not! I made this recipe using almond milk ricotta, a vegan alternative to dairy ricotta with all the tang, richness, and creaminess of conventional ricotta. This recipe is also paleo, sugar-free, and fruit-sweetened. And the lemon preserves used in this recipe are sugar-free and sweetened with apple juice.



These lemon ricotta cookies are soft-baked, flavorful, light, and healthy. Since these cookies are so small, you can eat 2 to 3 of these in one sitting without having to feel guilty. I'd say one serving size is about 3 of these cookies. And don't let the thought of ricotta in cookies dissuade you from trying them. The ricotta is sort of like when you use yogurt or sour cream in a recipe; it complements the sweetness of the cookie while adding just a hint of tartness. And these cookies have plenty of sweetness, with notes of vanilla and coconut.


And if you'd rather try a different kind of sugar-free fruit preserve/jam/jelly instead of the lemon preserves, then feel free to try other types! I think lime, grapefruit, orange, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, apricot, or peach preserves could work with these cookies (but if you don't want to mix the lemon flavor in the cookie batter with a different flavor of fruit preserves in the thumbprints, for the lime, grapefruit, and orange preserves version I would juice & zest your citrus fruit of choice and add the same amount to your cookie batter that the recipe calls for juice/zest wise. And if you're choosing a non-citrus fruit preserves version from a non-citrus fruit that can't be zested or juiced, such as an apricot, try adding the extract of that fruit to the batter (for instance apricot extract), starting with 1/4 tsp and adding additional extract in 1/8 tsp at a time until you reach the desired level of fruit flavor. Or, for any type of fruit preserves you choose to put in the thumbprints, you could also add the fruit preserves straight into the batter 1 tsp at a time until the desired level of fruit flavor is obtained so the flavor of the cookies and the flavor of the filling in the thumbprints match. And if you're using a more concentrated fruit extract in the cookie batter, start with 1/8 tsp of extract). I think most of the aforementioned fruit preserves flavors in the thumbprints of the cookies could work with the lemon flavor in the cookie batter, though, so it's up to you if you want the same flavor of fruit in the batter and in the thumbprints or if you want to try a combo of flavors by pairing two different flavors of fruit in the cookie batter and in the thumbprints. And if you're not a fan of using fruit preserves, then just leave out the preserves altogether and don't worry about indenting the cookies before baking. Be sure to flatten the cookies before baking if omitting the fruit preserves, though.




The batter for these cookies will need to chill in the fridge for at least one hour before forming into cookies. You can refrigerate the batter up to 2 to 3 days. You want to make sure the batter is workable and firm enough to roll into balls and make indents in the cookies.


These cookies are relatively easy to make and are made with fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. The brand and type of lemon preserves I used for these thumbprint cookies is Rigoni di Asiago's Fior di Frutta Organic Fruit Spread Lemon flavor. This brand can be found online or at a store like Whole Foods. It is sugar-free & sweetened with apple juice, is made with real fruit, is organic, and is gluten-free. Don't let the flavor of the lemon preserves on its own stop you from trying it in these cookies. I personally don't like the flavor of these lemon preserves on its own, but I LOVE it paired with other things. (Rigoni di Asiago makes other delicious fruit spread products that I'm a fan of, the only one I don't like on its own is the lemon one, but it works great in desserts).



These cookies are vegan, paleo, sugar-free, and fruit-sweetened and pair nicely with hot tea. The texture is soft and light and the flavor is delicate yet satisfying. And don't be intimidated by the number of cookies this recipe makes. It makes so many cookies because the cookies are very small (only 1 1/2 inches in diameter). But luckily, the cookies are very easy to form and the process or dropping, indenting, and filling the cookies doesn't take long at all. But if you prefer, you can make a half batch, which makes about 25 small cookies.



Tips for Making These Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies


Some basic tips and tricks for this recipe can make mixing, chilling, forming, filling, and baking the cookies into an easier & quicker process and can help you yield the ideal results.


My top tips for these Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies:


-Once you add the flour mixture to the batter, DO NOT over-mix. Over-mixing will cause a tougher, chewier texture in the finished product which is not what you want in these light, soft, and delicate cookies. After adding the flour mixture to the rest of the ingredients, blend until just combined (it's OK if there's still a little flour in the bowl of the food processor, you really just want to mostly incorporate the ingredients together).


-Be sure to refrigerate the dough long enough. The dough must be workable and must be able to be rolled into balls and indented prior to baking. It needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour and upwards of 2 to 3 days. Allowing the dough to chill helps it firm up.


-Use parchment paper! This is my #1 rule when it comes to baking cookies on a cookie sheet, as it makes for easier cleanup & helps prevent the cookies from sticking to the pan.


-When scooping out the dough to form cookies, use scant 1 Tablespoon of dough to form one cookie. Using this amount of dough will prevent the cookies from spreading out too much while baking.


-Once you measure out the dough to form one cookie, use your hands to roll the dough into a ball. Then, place it on the cookie sheet and using your thumb (parallel to the cookie sheet) lightly press down evenly on the top to flatten the cookie a little. You want the flattened cookie to be approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.


-To make the indent (or "thumbprint") in the cookies, position your thumb so it's pointing down towards the cookie sheet. In the middle of the cookie, carefully push your thumb down into the cookie (no more than 2/3 of the way through the cookie) to form the indent that you will later fill will fruit preserves (skip this step if not using fruit preserves/jam). If you need to widen the indent, in a circular motion gently use your pointer finger (pointing down into the cookie and into the indent), going around the rim of the indent until the indent is widened enough. If you need to make the indent deeper, push your finger slightly deeper into the cookie. For those of you familiar with ceramics and handling clay, treat the cookie like a mini, thick pinch pot to help you form it (except don't make the hole super wide, and you want the cookie to remain 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches in diameter when you're done forming and indenting it). You want the indent to be wide and deep enough to hold 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp of lemon preserves per cookie. (See pictures above and below to see what a properly formed and indented cookie should look like before filling).


-Fill the cookies with the fruit preserves BEFORE baking. Doing this will help the filling gelatinize, making it easier to eat & store (without it sticking to everything and spilling out of the cookie). Additionally, it's tricky to fill the cookies after they're done baking because sometimes while baking the cookies will change shape and the indent will be gone once they're out of the oven. There is a way to fill the cookies after they're finished baking though: as soon as the cookies come out of the oven, carefully make an indent in the cookies while they're still hot and soft and immediately fill the indent with fruit preserves. Please be cautious and careful if you choose this method because the cookies can get quite hot after coming straight out of the oven. I was able to safely indent some of mine after baking, but you have to do this carefully and don't touch the cookies for too long.

Furthermore, filling the cookies before baking helps the flavor of the cookies and the flavor of the lemon preserves meld together better, plus, the texture of the fruit preserves while baking can help better indicate when the cookies are done.


-To tell when the cookies are done, using an oven mitt and spatula carefully lift up one of the cookies to view the bottom (do this carefully though so the cookie doesn't fall off the spatula and the lemon preserves fall out). If the bottom appears a nice golden brown color, they're done. Another indicator of the cookies' doneness is the texture of the fruit preserves in the cookie. If the fruit preserves appear shiny & gelatinized and are tacky to the touch, they're done or close to being done. These cookies will be soft-baked cookies, so keep in mind if you test the cookies by lightly pressing your finger into the sides of one of them, they will be soft, but they should still feel solid and firm (think an Italian wedding cookie/Mexican wedding cookie, but slightly softer). Finally, the last thing I do to check my cookies is see if they move at least relatively easily if I push them from the side with a spatula. If they slide easily, that's a good sign and means they're solid and done.



Nutritional Profile of Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies


Vegan butter- vegan butter (like Earth Balance) is typically made mainly from vegetable oils full of healthy fats. Healthy fats are good for your heart, brain, skin, and hair.


Dates- dates are antioxidant-powerhouses and also contain considerable amounts of protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium & other trace minerals. These nutrients promote healthy muscles, a healthy digestive tract, a healthy heart, and also fight free radical damage (free radicals are disease-causing particles).


Flaxseed- flaxseed (and thus, a flax egg, which is just flaxseed meal and water) is a great source of fiber, protein, iron, and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Fiber and iron help with digestion & heart health, while omega-3s support heart health, brain health, joint health, immune health, eye health, metabolism health, and healthy skin & hair. Most health experts agree that your omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids ratio in your diet should be 2:1, with some health experts even advising a ratio of 1:1.


Lemon juice & zest- lemons are an excellent source of fiber, plant compounds, and antioxidants including vitamin C. These nutrients are good for your digestive system, immune system, heart, skin, and hair and can help with the absorption of plant-based iron. Some research suggests that lemons aid in weight loss due to their fiber content and plant compounds.


Almond milk ricotta- almond milk ricotta is rich in healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamin E, iron, potassium, and calcium. These nutrients are good for cardiovascular health, healthy muscles, digestive health, skin & hair health, healthy red blood cells, blood pressure levels, and bone health. In comparison, cow's milk ricotta contains cholesterol (while almond milk ricotta contains none), dairy ricotta has significantly less healthy fats and 5 times more saturated fat than almond milk ricotta, dairy ricotta contains no fiber (while almond milk ricotta has 2 grams per serving), and almond milk ricotta has nearly as much protein as cow's milk ricotta. Thinking of switching over to dairy-free ricotta yet? (By the way, the vegan almond milk ricotta I use is Kite Hill's Almond Milk Ricotta Alternative. It is 100% vegan and dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO and it can be found at Whole Foods.)


Almond flour- almond flour is packed with protein, healthy fats, fiber, and vitamin E. Protein is good for muscular health & bodily functions, healthy fats support a healthy heart & nervous system, fiber is good for digestion & heart health, and vitamin E is an antioxidant that is good for your skin & hair.


Coconut flour- coconut flour is chock-full of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and iron. Coconut flour helps stabilize blood sugar levels, promotes a healthy heart & digestive tract, and is believed to have anti-microbial properties. (For those of you with a Candida infection: most coconut products help fight Candida infections due to certain fatty acids that they contain like lauric acid which is believed to have anti-fungal properties. Lauric acid is found in coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut flour. Coconut oil is especially helpful for fighting off a yeast/fungal infection like Candidiasis).


Sea salt- sea salt regulates electrolytes, supports the adrenal glands, and nourishes the body with micronutrients. Try buying a minimally processed pure sea salt, like pink Himalayan sea salt.



Substitutions


For the lemon juice & zest, you can substitute your citrus fruit juice & zest of choice (i.e. orange, lime, grapefruit, etc.). Alternatively, you can add lemon extract or your fruit extract of choice to the cookie batter, starting with 1/4 tsp and adding in additional extract in 1/8 tsp at a time until the desired level of fruitiness is obtained. Another option is to scoop your fruit jam/jelly/preserves of choice into the batter, 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired level of flavor is reached. Or, you can totally omit the fruit juice/zest/extract/preserves altogether and just make these as ricotta cookies.


For the lemon preserves used to fill the thumbprints in these cookies, you can sub your jam/jelly/fruit preserves of choice (I think lime, orange, grapefruit, apricot, peach, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and even blueberry preserves could all work here). Just be sure that the flavor of the fruit preserves you choose for the thumbprints is compatible with the flavor of the lemon juice & zest in the batter of these cookies. Otherwise, add the same amount of juice & zest of your fruit of choice to the batter as the recipe calls for OR add the extract of your fruit of choice to the cookie dough, starting with 1/4 tsp of the extract and adding additional extract in 1/8 tsp at a time until you've reached your desired flavor (with certain fruit extracts, you may need to start with 1/8 tsp of extract, depending on how concentrated the extract is. Also be aware that oil is not the same as extract, oils are way more concentrated than extracts whereas extracts are more watered down and are made to be used in baking/cooking).


The almond milk ricotta can be swapped out with any dairy-free & vegan ricotta. And if you are experienced in making homemade vegan ricotta (or even if you're not and want to try it) you can use homemade dairy-free/vegan ricotta in this recipe by all means! The vegan butter is difficult to substitute, as it contributes to the texture & flavor of these cookies and makes up the base for these cookies. The flax egg can be substituted with one chia egg OR 3 Tablespoons of aquafaba (chickpea brine). The combination of almond flour, coconut flour, and arrowroot flour/starch in this recipe makes for the perfect soft-baked cookie, with a light & delicate texture. But if you don't have it on hand or can't do it on your diet, you can try using oat flour with arrowroot flour/starch or oat flour with xanthan gum OR use a 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour. However, I don't know what amounts of all of these substitutions to do, seeing as coconut flour (especially when used with other flours) is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to substitute, but if you have more baking experience or have substituted another flour(s) before in another recipe for the same ratio of almond flour to coconut flour to arrowroot flour that's in this recipe (a ratio of about 4:3:1) , then try substituting the corresponding amount of flour(s) and thickener(s) (if needed).


You can substitute table salt for the sea salt. The baking powder and baking soda are 100% necessary and cannot be substituted. The vanilla isn't necessary but it adds a nice flavor that complements the tang of the lemon juice & zest and ricotta. You can try adding 1/4 tsp almond extract instead of the vanilla extract.


The Medjool dates in this recipe can be swapped with any other variety of date. You can also use maple syrup, honey, agave, or date syrup to sweeten these cookies. Just use 1/3 cup maple syrup/honey/agave/date syrup in place of the dates. If you can do sugar on your diet, use 1/2 cup granulated sugar. For a 100% sugar-free option, use 3/4 cup Swerve Confectioner's sweetener OR 1/2 cup Swerve Granular sweetener.



It's been a while since I last posted a recipe, I know, I know. Sorry folks, I'm a college student and school is starting up now so it's been more difficult to post as regularly. But to make up for it, I'm going to post two more recipes in the next week!!


Keep posted for more delicious recipes coming soon and Happy September!



As always,

Enjoy <3


-K.



Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies (with Lemon Preserves) (Vegan, Paleo, Sugar-Free, Fruit-Sweetened)


Prep Time: 20 minutes

Chill Time: 1 hour (at least)

Cook Time: 13 to 14 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

Servings: 50 small cookies


Ingredients:


-1/2 cup vegan butter (like Earth Balance or Miyoko's)

-1 flax egg

-1/2 cup almond flour

-1/3 cup coconut flour

-2 Tbsp arrowroot flour/starch (can sub cassava/tapioca flour/starch)

-1/8 tsp sea salt

-1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

-1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

-8 oz (227 grams, or about 1 cup) vegan almond milk ricotta (like Kite Hill's almond milk ricotta)

-1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and soaked in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes

-1 1/2 tsp baking powder

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-3/4 tsp vanilla extract


For filling the thumbprints:


-1/2 cup sugar-free lemon preserves (like Rigoni di Asiago's Fior di Frutta Organic Fruit Spread Lemon flavor)


Directions:


1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot flour/starch, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Set aside.


2. Soften the vegan butter in the microwave in 3-second intervals until just softened but still mostly firm.


3. In a food processor, combine the softened vegan butter and the soaked & drained dates. Cream together until smooth and uniform.


4. Add the flax egg, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract to the food processor. Blend until combined.


5. Add the almond milk ricotta and blend until fully incorporated.


6. Add the flour mixture and blend until just combined (DO NOT over-mix).


7. Using a spatula, remove the batter from the food processor, transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 to 3 days.


8. After the batter is done chilling and has firmed up, remove it from the fridge.


9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 to 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.


10. While the oven is preheating, form the cookies. To form cookies, scoop out scant 1 Tbsp of batter and roll into a ball (don't exceed this amount of batter per cookie, as using too much batter per cookie can cause your cookies to spread out too much). Place the ball on the cookie sheet and using your thumb (positioning it parallel to the cookie sheet) lightly press down on the top of the cookie to flatten it a little. The cookie should be between 1 and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Now, use your thumb (positioning it pointing down towards the pan) and create an indent in the center of the cookie, deep enough to fill with the sugar-free lemon preserves. Shape the indent as needed, making it wider and/or deeper. Repeat with the rest of the dough, making 8 cookies per sheet.


11. Scoop out 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp of the lemon preserves (depending on the size and depth of the indent) and add it to the indent of one cookie. Repeat with the rest of the cookies. (You want to add the lemon preserves BEFORE baking these cookies, see above in the "Tips for Making These Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies" section of this post as to why I do it this way. However, if you forget to add the fruit preserves before baking you can add them after. See above in the "Tips for Making These Lemon Ricotta Thumbprint Cookies" section of this post on how to indent and fill the cookies after they're done baking.)


12. Bake in the preheated oven (at 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for 13 to 14 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown, the cookies feel pretty solid to the touch (keep in mind they will still be soft-baked cookies), and the lemon preserves appear to have gelatinized (the preserves will be tacky and shiny). Another indicator of the doneness of these cookies is to lightly push the side of one of the cookies with a spatula and if it slides on the pan and moves relatively easily, it means it's solid and done (use the other methods to test to see if the cookies are done baking in addition to this indicator, though).


13. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool on the pan for a couple of minutes before taking them off the pan and transferring them to a cooling rack. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes more.


14. Serve with hot tea, with your beverage of choice, or serve on its own. Enjoy!


Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.



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